Fr. John Lange, MariKnoll Working in Nairobi's Slums
by John Lange
"There was much else that Jesus did, if it were written down... the world itself could not hold all the books" (John 21, 25). These words were roaming in my head as I toured the Nairobi slum of Lunga Lunga. I asked myself: "How can one adequately describe the poverty and struggle of the people?" You can't. Not even with a video camera.
But let me try anyway. Two months ago, I carried Elizabeth Wangari to Kijabe Hospital. Her leg was badly swollen and inflamed. She screamed every time I hit a bump. After a month she was much better and was discharged. But still limited in how far she could walk. So Philomena, one of my noble health workers, persuaded me to help her rent a home-shack on the main road where she could open a store selling kerosene, charcoal, vegetables etc. so she could support her six children. To do this I had to first pay $60 to her former landlord for seven months of rent. Then the goods she is to stock cost me another $80. She is carrying-on O.K., so far.
We failed to get Lucy Wanjiku's 19-year-old daughter into Mother Theresa's home. Lucy herself has been sick for a long time. How does one such mother earn money for food and rent? So we have built a two room, steel-sheet home with a good cement floor. Cost. $600. The cement is especially expensive, but in the long run it saves doctor bills. People get TB etc by slogging in the mud. From now on we'll only have to help Lucy with food and money. We hope to get her able to start a little business. Another home will soon be completed for the next most destitute family.
A 5-year-old boy with AIDS was brought onto the scene. My health workers reminded me that we had prayed for his grandmother who died of AIDS 3 years ago. This boy's mother had also died of AIDS. One of his aunts pleaded with us to help the boy as she was already trying to raise other AIDS orphans in her extended family. We persuaded her to try NYUMBANI which takes in such AIDS children. It will be a miracle if they have room.
We visited Esther Wayua who is barely able to walk. AIDS again. Her seven children were gathered around her. Also there was the landlord who announced that Esther had just two more days to pay 4 months of rent or she will be thrown out. Florence Kainini needed $50 for school fees for four of her children in primary school and uniforms for two of them. Joyce Nzirani needed money for uniforms for two of her children. I have been soft on her because she was flooded-out of her home in 1998, burned-out of the next home a half year later and is now in a home I helped build for her and her five children. I could go on and on, But there was a bright side. I got a big hello from Florence Nduku. She raced over to meet me from where she was selling food to construction workers. She only knew me from saying Mass in the church. I hadn't done anything for her. But her smile was from the inside out.